Thursday 18 January 2018

Does travel broaden the mind? Yes, yes, yes

Travel Talk

Outspoken: Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Outspoken: Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

John Masterson

Apparently there are about 195 countries on the planet. There is some dispute as to whether to count Taiwan or not, and our neighbours will be disappointed to know that on most lists England, Scotland and Wales just count as one.

I did a quick count and I have been fortunate to have been in about a quarter of the countries on Earth but that leaves a lot of big gaps. I have never been in any part of South America, or China. I hope to rectify both of those omissions before too long.

This Third Rock from the Sun is an interesting place and I do not want to learn about the many distant parts of it from the television. There is no substitute for being there and sitting with a coffee watching the world go by, or climbing a mountain, swimming in a lake or whatever.

Even Ireland has a lot of differences in our small island and many people have been only in a few counties. I am fairly sure I have been in all 32 but it is easy to get lazy about it.

These days with Airbnb we should all be booking weekends away in bits of the country that we have not been in before, or have not visited for a while.

Travel broadens the mind is one of those cliches that is true. It gradually dawns that people are people with the same problems of living and loving.

Racism seems nonsensical. Whether people are in Syria or Kilkenny, are Muslim or Methodist, is largely an accident of birth. Travelling has made me very glad I was born and live in a part of the world with Western values, but I know full well that had the ball bounced differently I could have been a member of Isil. The randomness of it all is humbling.

The first country outside Ireland that I visited was the United States as a teenage JI visa student working for the summer. It began a lifelong love for that country and its people as I received nothing but friendship and generosity. I have been back many, many times and have been in at least half of the states.

My time spent there makes it all the more horrible that they chose Trump as a leader, but it also leaves me confident they will come out of the other side of this idiocy. If I have a regret in life it is that I never lived and worked there. I suspect my only chance now would be to marry an American and I can think of worse ideas.

Travel was once the privilege of the rich. Thankfully Michael O'Leary changed the world for the better.

I can remember the days of prohibitively expensive flights. Now you can travel Europe for not much more than it costs to park at the airport.

In 2017 I intend to go somewhere I have never been before.

And I am going to begin a new habit. I will spend more weekends on this little island in parts of it that I do not know as well as I should.

Sunday Independent

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